We relax and unwind at one of the best meditation spots in Bahrain
The downside of meditation tends to be the people that do it. You can feel quite calm and relaxed, but when faced with a hairy tie-dye-clad hippie telling you to ‘look deep inside’, most people clench up, shut off and do their best to fall asleep. So expectations were comparatively modest when we pulled up outside the Bahrain Meditation Centre, hot, late, and having spent the past half hour stuck in traffic.
Founded in 2001 and registered as a society in 2006, the meditation centre is affiliated with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, an Indian-based worldwide institute that has over a million adherents but has courted its fair share of criticism in recent years (in some European countries it is considered a cult). But for every critical voice, there are many thousands of practitioners who swear by its teachings as a way of balancing their lives.
Ansuya Sunku, the Hyderabad-born director of the Bahrain Meditation Centre meets us at the entrance of the up-market Umm Al Hassan villa the centre calls home. Dressed in white and with the stillness of a human statue, Ansuya doesn’t walk but drifts through the manicured gardens as she leads us to the meditation hall. An Arabic language meditation session is about to kick off, and a group of Muslim women are already in quiet contemplation.
‘The people that come here are from a bouquet of different nationalities,’ Ansuya says, nodding to a group of Indians who are busy setting out extra chairs. Courses are generally in English and Arabic, though Hindi lessons are available upon request. The form of meditation taught is known as raja yoga, not to be confused with the classical Raja Yoga, an extension of ancient yoga practise. Being an open eye meditation, the surroundings are important, and the low lighting, occasional fairy lights and pictures you’d associate with a shop selling healing crystals give the atmosphere of a sleep-over at an eccentric aunt’s.
Strikingly, for a meditation centre, all the images are vehemently non-religious, the image of the sun being something of a theme. Dr Awatif Sharaf, family practitioner by day and meditation teacher by night, explains: ‘Spirituality can be a way of utilising the inner resources that we have. Spirituality is an umbrella that is not specific to religion.’ Which makes Bahrain Meditation Centre perhaps one of the few places in Bahrain where Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians unite in their spiritual quest.
Each lesson comprises of an hour and a half of theory and a thirty minute meditation, with followers attending twice each week for a month. But Dr Sharaf is keen to stress that meditation is not a part-time pursuit. ‘We stress the importance of regular practise. Every day, even a short time every day, is better than once or twice a week. Whatever result you get from meditation is equal to the theoretical knowledge of meditation plus regular practise.’ Ansuya nods, looking serenely exhausted. She gets up at 4am each morning to start her first meditation, and follows a severe diet that excludes even onion and garlic. She’s been meditating since the age of 12, and has taught across the Gulf as well as in London. ‘I decided to dedicate my life full time to this organisation,’ she says. ‘Because this is the help that people need today .’
Meditation is even good for those looking for a quick fix, with students reportedly claiming positive results after just a couple of sessions. Though both Ansuya and Dr Awatif are keen to stress it is not an alternative to conventional medicine. Ansuya says, ‘Meditation does not cure any disease. It is a support system that helps to relieve certain symptoms. It is preventative. If you face a deadly disease, you can face it with ease. You are a soul and not a body: the body is just a costume.’
We stand up in our costumes and head back into the mayhem of the rush hour traffic, feeling rather reluctant to leave the oasis of calm. ‘Traffic’s bad, ‘ I say watching a lorry doing a U-turn accompanied by an orchestra of horns . Ansuya smiles, cool as a cucumber, ‘We are more happy when we are stuck in traffic, because we have more time for meditation.’ My final question? ‘How do I join?’ For more information about Bahrain Meditation Centre, visit www.bahrainmeditationcentre.org or call 17 712 545. Courses in English and, Arabic run each month, Hindi on request. Attendance is free.